Artist Files Lawsuit Against The Associated Press Over Image of via kwout

Today, we discussed the idea of ethical use of digital content and Creative Commons licenses with Ms. Tillery’s 11th grade American Literature/Composition as we prepared to create Glogsters on the Roaring Twenties.

Conversations about ethical use of digital content and when do we have the right to use someone else’s work in a creative manner take on more meaning when you read this headline from the New York Times “Artist Sues the A.P. Over Obama Image.”

The Associated Press has demanded that Shepard Fairey, the street artist who created the now famous iconic image of President Obama that graced campaign stickers and posters during the presidential election, pay royalty fees and any profits he makes from his artwork to the Associated Press.

According to the article, though, Fairey’s attorneys  feel Fairey has not violated any copyright laws.    The article states that:

Mr. Fairey’s lawyers, including Anthony T. Falzone, the executive director of the Fair Use Project and a law lecturer at Stanford University, contend in the suit that Mr. Fairey used the photograph only as a reference and transformed it into a “stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that created powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message” from that of the shot Mr. Garcia took.

The article also states that Fairey is asking the judge to declare that his work is protected under fair-use exceptions to copyright law, which allow limited use of copyrighted materials for purposes like criticism or comment.  Fairey originally stated he found the image that inspired his own artwork as the basis for his work on the Internet; reporters eventually tracked down the image and discovered the original photograph was taken by freelance A.P. photographer Mannie Garcia.

Complicating the fair use questions in this case is the question of who actually owns and has rights to the image.  Photographer Mannie Garcia argues that the image belongs to him, not the Associated Press.  Garcia stated, ““I don’t condone people taking things, just because they can, off the Internet…but in this case I think it’s a very unique situation.”

It remains to be seen how this case will play out in court.  Do you think that Fairey’s artwork stands alone and falls under the guidelines for fair use, or do you believe he should compensate the Associated Press and/or Mannie Garcia to some degree?

2 thoughts on “Copyright in the Headlines: The Obama Image

  1. It seems to me that this is clearly a fair use. All artists comment on and make use of the work of other artists. The painter was inspired by the photographer, but the work is clearly transformative. It was used for a new purpose, and the painterly scheme adds a lot of value. This is a perfect example of how important fair use is to the creative process!

    Check out our lesson plans helping teach about fair use at:


  2. Hi Renee!

    Thank you for your take on this situation! I tend to agree with you—do you think this could become a “landmark” case for the new Code of Best Practices for Fair Use?

    Thank you for all the work you and your team are doing!!!



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